The Lake Waban Horticulturalist
Today is the birthday of one of America's most prominent horticulturalists – Horatio Hollis Hunnewell.
Horatio was staggeringly wealthy. He was a railroad financier. But he also had a lifelong love of nature and gardening.
When Horatio purchased over 40 acres of land along the eastern and southern shores of Lake Waban ("Wah-bin"), he built a magnificent estate there. He had married Isabella Pratt Wells, and he decided to call his impressive home Wellesley in honor of his wife's maiden name.
When it came time for the nearby town and college to settle on a name, they also chose the name Wellesley after discussing the matter with Horatio, who happened to be the most generous benefactor of the city.
The Hunnewell estate was so large that when the Hunnewell children grew up, seven of the nine had homes built on the property - right next to their parent's original house. Aside from the impressive homes, Horatio added many magnificent features to the estate, including a pinetum with over 325 specimens of conifers.
Hollis Honeywell made the following remark in 1899 about his trees,
"No Vanderbilt, with all his great wealth, can possess one of these [trees] for the next 50 years, for could not be grown in less time than that."
And, Horatio also installed the very first Topiary Garden in America at Wellesley. He referred to it as the Italian Garden, and it was ideally situated along the shore of Lake Waban. When it came to the Topiary Garden, Horatio went all out. Whenever he had guests, Horatio would have them hop aboard a large authentic Italian Gondola boat complete with an authentically dressed gondola man. After they glided up to the Topiary Gardens, they would stop and take a tour. Horatio's shores rivaled that of Lake Como in northern Italy.
It's difficult to fathom how much attention this one-of-a-kind garden received from the public. Thousands of visitors from all over the country came to Wellesley just to see the topiary garden firsthand. Many more took in its beauty through photographs and engravings published in the most popular periodicals of the time.
To this day — a century and a half later — the Hunnewell Topiary Garden is among the most spectacular sites in the region.
There are a few stories about Horatio I discovered during my research. The first is that Horatio and his friend Nathaniel Thayer Jr. brought the game of tennis to America. The second story is that Horatio was the first person to cultivate and popularize rhododendrons In the United States.